Mar 1, 2010

Fire, J.Swenson

By Jack Swenson

He sat down at the bar and ordered a Diet Coke. She breezed in ten minutes later. "Sorry I'm late," she said. He waved it off.

He looked at her across the table. He smiled. Eskimo eyes. She had squinty eyes. That's why he didn't like her. You can't tell what someone is thinking if you can't see her eyes.

She said what she had come to say. She spoke her mind. At first it was just chit chat. “No more drinking, she asked? Never, ever?” He nodded. “One day at a time,” he said.

But that wasn't it. That wasn't what was on her mind. That came after they had their lunch. "Seen Janet since you've been back?" she asked. He shook his head. "No," he lied.

She pointed her face at him. "I don't believe you," she said. He shrugged. He leaned forward and put his hand on hers. "It's you and only you," he said.

She took back her hand. She started to cry. He gave her his handkerchief. She dabbed her eyes.

He told her a story he had heard in rehab. A woman (with eyes just like hers) was at the front of the room telling her story. She looked worn out, exhausted. She had fallen asleep smoking a cigarette. She was drunk. The house burned down, and her two children were killed.

He shook his head. He looked earnestly at her. His eyes flicked back and forth, scanning her face. "Can you imagine?" he said. "How could you live with something like that?"

They left the restaurant together. When they got outside, he put on his sunglasses. They went their separate ways. She made a U-turn and drove past as he started his car. She waved. He looked both ways, then pulled out and drove off in the opposite direction.